Excellence and Dignity. 400 years of Arabic studies in the Netherlands

6 September 2013 until 2 March 2014

Illustration of a horse from an Arabic manuscriptIllustration of a horse from an Arabic manuscript

This exhibition surveys the field of Arab studies in the Netherlands over the past 400 years and has been jointly organized with the Leiden University Library and the university’s Academic History Museum. It sketches the history of a research tradition, presenting Arabic professors, mainly from Leiden University, and their legacies. The exhibits will also include books, prints, and manuscripts. The organizer and guest curator is Dr Arnoud Vrolijk, curator of Oriental manuscripts and rare books at the Leiden University Libraries.

World-famous scholars

May 2013 marked the 400th anniversary of the inaugural lecture by Leiden’s first professor of Arabic studies, Thomas Erpenius (1584–1624): ‘On the Excellence and Dignity of Arabic’. In Leiden, Arabic studies are a deep-rooted local tradition that is well known all over the world. Scholars such as Scaliger, Erpenius, Golius, De Goeje, and Snouck Hurgronje have become world renowned.

Perspectives on a foreign world

These Leiden professors and their university were backed up by an entire local infrastructure of book sellers, auctioneers, and publishing houses focusing on the Near and Middle East, such as Elsevier and Brill. Arabic studies in Leiden form a powerful symbol of ‘perspectives on the Other’ through the centuries and attest to a cosmopolitan curiosity about the exotic world of Islam, combined with a healthy dose of personal initiative.


The exhibition is part of the European project 'Cultural Encounters', initiated by the academic partnership 'Humanities in the European Research Area' (HERA).
A generous grant was awarded by Saudi Aramco, the national petroleum company of Saudi Arabia.

Learn more about Arabic studies and the Middle East in Leiden

Leiden University
Find out more about the festivities for the 400th anniversary of Arab studies in the Netherlands on the Leiden University website
National Museum of Ethnology
This autumn (10 September 2013–9 March 2014), the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden will present the unique exhibition Longing for Mecca – the pilgrim’s journey. Dazzling objects, personal stories, and probing accounts will paint a comprehensive picture of this awe-inspiring pilgrimage, in which millions of people around the world participate every year.